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A 9/11 Anniversary Tale

September 17, 2007

Could this possibly be true? Could the Ground Zero neighborhood, flooded with police officers during the 9/11 anniversary celebrations, not be safe enough for the President of the United States?

Well, in 2006, that was apparently the opinion of no less than one of the NYPD’s top officials charged with making the city safe – Deputy Commissioner David Cohen, the former CIA honcho who runs the department’s Intelligence Division.

Cohen apparently didn’t believe the hype that he and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have fed the public about the NYPD’s vigilance and razor-sharpness in preventing more terrorist attacks in New York City. When it came to guarding the President, Cohen apparently had little confidence in his own men. This story will never be officially confirmed. But it comes from sources inside the Intelligence Division.

According to these sources, last year Cohen tried to keep President George Bush from visiting a place revered by the city’s fire department — the home of Ladder Company 10/Engine Company 10 on Liberty Street. It is the firehouse closest to Ground Zero. It also lost five firefighters in the burning Twin Towers.

It was a logical and symbolic stop for Bush last year, who was making his first 9/11 anniversary visit to New York Since 2002. Imagine his handlers’ glee at the chance to arrange a photo op with the men of 10/10 to demonstrate the President’s commitment to fighting terrorism, despite his absence from the city’s anniversary ceremonies for four years in a row.

Cohen, however, had doubts. Sources in the Intelligence Division say he “got wind” of an advance inspection the Secret Service was making to the firehouse, to ensure it was safe for the President. Cohen made his own visit there, then advised the Secret Service agent in charge “that it was not safe and that Bush should not go there,” the sources say.

“An argument ensued and the Secret Service left in a huff, stating that he [Bush] would not be going there due to Cohen’s interference….

“The next day,” a source continued, “Cohen was summonedto Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s officeand told that Bloomberg got a call from the White House. He [Kelly] told Cohen to go immediately to see Bloomberg.Bloomberg berated Cohen and made him call the Special Agent in Charge from the Secret Service detail that guards the President and apologize for meddling in their business.”

Did this actually occur? The Secret Service does not comment on security arrangements. Neither Cohen nor Stuart Loeser, Mayor Mike’s spokesman, returned a call.

In 2006, Bush did end up visiting the Liberty Street firehouse. But he went there the evening before the anniversary, on September 10. Press accounts described the stop as “unscheduled.”

Then, on the morning of Sept. 11, Bush had breakfast at another firehouse, LadderCompany 18 on Pitt Street on the Lower East Side.Apparently, that neighborhood passed muster with Cohen.

The New Ray Kelly. On the sixth anniversary of 9/11, Ray Kelly laid out a vision of his accomplishments since returning as police commissioner in 2002. In an op-ed piece in the Post on Sept.11th, 2007, he wrote of the department’s “fundamental restructuring” to deal with both conventional crime and terrorism.

“After the second attack on the World Trade Center destroyed it, the NYPD could no longer cede that responsibility to our federal partners alone, or limit the NYPD's role to staffing the Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF) with just 17 or 18 detectives, as we once did,” he explained.

As he has in the past, Kelly cited the department’s new counter-terrorism bureau, an eight-fold increase in staffing of the JTTF with the FBI, his restructuring of the department's Intelligence Bureau and the assignments of detectives overseas.

The man who wrote these serious words used to be so personally modest he disdained the celebrity-loving limelight-hugging behavior of other police commissioners like Bill Bratton. Unlike Howard Safir, who always had his nose up to the glass, Kelly never traveled with an entourage. Even when he took a day off from fighting crime and terrorism to drive out to Newsday on Long Island in 2003 to complain about Your Humble Servant, he arrived only with his driver.

But that was then. This is now.

Two days before his op-ed piece appeared in the Post, Kelly attended a 40th anniversary celebration for Ralph Lauren. There, according to the Post, he was seated with actress Ellen Barkin and mogul Barry Diller. Kelly’s picture there even made Sunday’s New York Times Styles section, showing him dressed in a tux and standing next to billionaire Stephen Schwartzman, head of Wall Street’s top private equity firm, the Blackstone Group.

The Post couldn’t resist a jab at our newly social police commissioner. It called him a “budding fashionista” and noted he “arrived in a multi-vehicle motorcade complete with officers in flak jackets, helmets and automatic weapons.”

“And,” its reporter concluded, “we’re supposed to consider him for our next mayor?”

No More Bernie.
Every year since 2001, former mayor and current presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani hosts an anniversary 9/11 dinner for his top staffers at City Hall and the top chiefs in the NYPD who were with him in the World Trade Center attack and the weeks after. The dinner is held at Frank’s Restaurant on 15th Street. Usually some 100 people attend. There is no fundraising. There is no politicking. Rudy picks up the tab.

This year, there was a conspicuous absence: Former police commissioner Bernie Kerik.

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt